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Electrifying

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
28/01/2021

Engines. Power Units. Energy Recovery.

Our local yellow dwarf main sequence star (classified as a G2V type star), otherwise known as "The Sun", or "Sol" in some quarters, is the source of all energy in our Solar System. Yet we have been reprocessing alternate energy stores for centuries as we crawled from cave to civilisation. Wood burning, oil and internal combustion, tidal energy... all started with the Sun in some manner. So, finally 2021 will be the year that solar power really makes a difference.

Here in Australia roof-top solar panels are now the single biggest generator of electrical power in many suburban areas. The final quarter this year should see the launch of a pure solar-powered car complete with comfort and 'nice touches', rather than the Heath Robinson items that crawl across the outback in "Solar Challenges" with no air conditioning, internet or surround sound.

So what is Formula One to do?

Bernie, long may his messaging continue, has already restated his desire for Formula One to throw up its hands, own-up to being entertainment, and as such return to screaming V10, V8, or V12 engines that elicit loud complaint from the dead.

The big manufacturers need the "this is good for road cars" link in order to give some mild justification to Board Members around the world for the continued expense of racing. Not to mention the awkward messaging of such excessive destructive consumption to an ever greener audience.

Baby brother Formula-E is growing up rapidly, attracting lots of new friends to his playground games. What if he turns out to have more friends than his F1 big brother? Might sound silly now, but if you'd told folk back in the 1980's that a lowered four wheel drive that could tow a boat was going to become Porsche's best seller, out-stripping fifty years of 911 sales in just a handful of years, well they would have laughed long and hard.

Big Oil, like Big Tobacco before it, is not stupid. Big Oil knows its days are numbered. Yet it has a storage, supply and distribution solution that works flawlessly. Moving from digging liquefied dinosaur out the ground, to huffing and puffing the chemistry to produce hydrogen is not a huge task for these chaps, they already have immense, complex refineries all over the planet so moving to hydrogen production would not be such a big shift for them.

Why bother? Because they can still hold us all to ransom with a product that has to be manufactured, stored, distributed, and cannot be easily sourced from your own garden shed.

Sunlight? Well, even in Wales in February, there is the slightest glimmer of a suggestion of the concept of daylight. Sure, you're not going to be Surfing USA in your baggies, but it is daylight. And where those photons fall there is energy to be had. Pop solar panels on the roof of your garden shed... and it is all yours... for free. No manufacturing, no storage and distribution network. No huge profits for Big City Fat Cats (BCFCs). Just helpful electromagnetic spectrum energy gifted from our G2 star direct to your backyard. Now if that's not paying it forward, what is?

Naturally BCFCs of all fur types and stripes do not like this, not at all. Big Oil, energy companies, your local fun loving tax raising council. Not one of them likes us getting "Free Stuff".

Solar panels are getting to the point where approximately five square metres (about the total skyward facing surface area of a full size sedan) can generate a useful amount of energy. Meanwhile the energy storage density of batteries is increasing at a dramatic rate. Rather like Moores law for semiconductors (processing power doubling every time you blink) has remarkably held for decades, battery technology is currently in a state of exponential improvement. Simply because there is a huge amount of money to be made for those that get it right. A BCFC of a new stripe will emerge from the feral undergrowth once someone (Panasonic and Toyota possibly - watch the news at the end of this year) gets it right and current generation electric cars will look like 19th century steam engines overnight.

So! Does F1 continue to give ear fuss and tummy tickles to the Big Oil Fat Cats, or do they pay passing attention to the collapse of the planet, and the concerns of the public, and go electric, and eventually, solar boosting coupled with kinetic, rather than energy recovery from those naughty exhaust gases?

No wonder that chipper chap Toto is pausing while muttering "...new engine choice is a complex thing..." Rumour has it Toto is more of a dog lover than a cat lover (I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more...") (Max, didn't you see that Halo-device inspired video of the ginger cat in a sandal, which Toto described as a small animal? – Ed) but maybe that is missing a subtle wrinkle.

It is the BCFCs of Big Oil that Toto is not so found of, while the laptop furry variety are just fine. At least, along with his thankful recovery, we can be assured of Romain's decent nature by his delight at hugging first his children, his wife and then his 'feline fan', Petrus, looking suspiciously like a well-maintained Rag-doll slim cat.

It will have a huge impact on how F1 is viewed, how useful it is as a technology platform, and just how endeared and aligned the public feel to F1 as the entire planet adjusts to different energy storage and use models. Stop the BCFCs of Big Oil from scratching a beloved sofa to pieces, or to hell with them, and embrace the free photons, furniture damage be damned?

Hybrids were always a red herring long term. You still need a fuel supply (petrol), and have an internal combustion engine literally doing your dirty work.

Hydrogen still requires a massive manufacturing, storage and distribution setup, which is exactly what Big Oil wants.

Next generation solar panels, coupled with next generation batteries, plus ever improving electric motor design, is a remarkable, excessively clean (heavy metals in the battery and motor not withstanding) solution.

Toto's smart. He would be very well aware of the crossroads being reached on energy and power issues within the transport industry. Echoing around his mind would be Treebeard's wise words; "Now don't be hasty."

The Porsche Taycan, the BMW i3, the Jaguar iPace... all in response to Tesla bringing out electric cars that actually work. Robustly embarrassing the subcompact lumps of junk with a 50-mile range that car makers had been rolling out to keep the Big Oil Fat Cats happy and well fed, while charging the extreme price of a BMW V8 coupe for the privilege.

Humanity is at an existential crossroads for saving the planet, whales, small furry things, and ourselves. It might be that to achieve this little victory that Big Oil Fat Cats - as a species - will be driven to extinction.

Meanwhile Toto, and the F1 gang have the wonderfully tricky problem of trying to keep a clutter of BCFCs happy, including their own boards of Fat Cat Directors, then the teams, Liberty Media, sponsors, and, eventually, finally, and just occasionally, us the "priceless" fan.

Indeed, Toto and the chaps are not going to be hasty with this decision. The next round of engine regulations will be the most defining since Formula One first formed a grid before dropping the start flag.

This fan, your increasingly eccentric scribe, is an Electrical and Electronic Engineer by training. I'm for next generation solar, pumping energy from those G2 star photons into next generation batteries. I can live with a species of BCFC going extinct as the price we all pay. In an increasingly hug the Whale, save the Koala and plant the inner city forest world, how can an entertainment based on liquefied dinosaur be considered anything other than a dinosaur itself from a previous epoch?

The power to divine the future is possibly one that Toto desires right now. Not just to get the right words into Lewis' contract, but to strike the right balance between the whales, the fans, and the Fat Cats.

What a perfect electrical storm of a decision to make! As John Travolta ("Volt" is even in his name, he's been the future for years!) so sagely sang; "It's electrifying!"

Max Noble

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by alvarezh3, 22/02/2021 20:43

"Just read today that Dr. Frank Wallier of Prosche Motorsport and GT cars, has declared that the company is working on a synthetic fuel tech that can be as clean as an EV.

Part of the human experience is covered by sound. What is a circus without a band, the lion show without the roar of the beasts, the sound of the whip as it brakes the sound barrier and the shouting of the tamer?

EV are fine for the road, I am all for it. Notice how FE has to use a DJ to create any type of excitement?

Why would we want to bring back F1 to the silent movie era if the technology is soon available to avoid it? "

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2. Posted by Max Noble, 06/02/2021 23:18

"@ancient70! - quite! It amused me early in the electric car debate that folk totally forgot the car had to be charged from a power source... as it is only an energy storage device... that’s why we need next generation solar panels to really make a big dent in the problem. Personally I’m a big fan of getting Fusion reactors fully operational... but that upsets people too... which brings us back to the largest fusion reactor in the local area... the big bright thing in the sky... it’s going to be fascinating to watch this all play out..."

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3. Posted by ancient70!, 05/02/2021 10:04

"Despite my tongue in cheek comment below, I do agree with Max, sooner or later we are going electric. The exact format tbc. The current electric cars that you charge from the grid just do not make sense globally. Here in the good old SA we are heading for another round of load-shedding this weekend, meaning there is not enough power to meet current requirements. Ok so now we add a couple of million cars on top of that, all supplied from mainly big dirty coal fired power plants. Green?? I think not. Oh have increasing numbers of wind farms going up. Except that now nature conservation (bless them) is up in arms as in some areas the raptor and vulture population are being decimated, sometimes you just cannot win!

We also have VW group’s statement that they will stop making ic engined cars ASAP. Does that mean they now have their heads firmly buried in European mud? Therefore in the whole world there’s no longer a requirement for dinosaur fuelled vehicles? I wonder, let’s see how this all works out.

"

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4. Posted by ancient70!, 04/02/2021 14:00

"Oh one thingI forgot in this discussion about electrification etc, the whine of an electric motor does not generate the same adrenalin rush as when a dinosaur screams at you!"

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5. Posted by Nogbad, 02/02/2021 22:41

"@Max Noble
I totally agree, if it is to be road relevant, then Formula E on steroids is the obvious way to go.
But, to be honest, I don't think that is the route F1 will take. They have a history of making the technology take second place to the show,even if it isn't the optimal route. I wonder if they did go hydrogen, then some of the hypercar manufacturers could produce some hydrogen specials.

We'll have to wait and see."

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6. Posted by Spindoctor, 02/02/2021 14:44

"@Max Noble
You are quite correct. I was being a bit grumpy & literal-minded. I guess I'm a bit fixated on the idea that we use Art, Sport, Music etc. to anaesthetise ourselves to some of the harsher realties. I failed to appreciate the spiritual & aesthetic value of Sport in general & F1 in particular. As you so rightly say it won't save the world, but if it brings a little joy....AS a fan since the early 1960's I've enjoyed a lot of F1!"

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 02/02/2021 0:45

"@Apexing - Amusing vision of all those extension leads... Obviously Lewis’ would remain plugged in, While Bottas would find ‘someone’ kicked his plug out the plug board just as he was going to win... :-)

@habentsen - You’ll find classic racing, Goodwood revival etc. already provide the wonders of yesteryear... F1 does need a refresh rather than a throw back... but simpler rules would be a good start!

@Bill Hopgood - Well yes, and no.... Yes it is entertainment, and it was the ever sound bite worthy Max Moseley (long may his tea be warm, and his scones fluffy...) who delightfully noted some years back that the best way for sport to “Go Green” in the UK was to make fishing illegal and as a result stop thousands of fishermen (...and women...) driving to the coast and rivers every weekend! So I agree that sport needs to be an entertainment with a spiritual value rather than “Pursuit of Higher Meaning for Humanity” at every turn... Planet *not* being turned to a cinder by humans... ummm.... Me thinks a touch less consumption would be good all around...

@Ancient70! - Quite so, one must know one’s place and then act accordingly! Hard to race on a lifeless lump of rock “...being the planet formally known as Earth...!”

@Nogbad - Agree we need to investigate many forms, but if we want an link to “road relevance” it needs to have some link to what we drive... and I believe, unless the Big Oil Fat Cats get hydrogen off the ground, it wil be electric for us public drivers...

@Spindoctor - profound observation, and I believe robustly to the point. We need to use technology to aid and sustain life on this planet for all species! The direct relevant of F1 to this mission is minimal. As is the continuing existence of Monet’s water lilies. Some things have a spiritual worth, some are for relaxation, some for joy, some for life giving reasons. F1 can produce much that is profound and entertaining. It cannot save the world... but it can accelerate it’s destruction... or elect to have a small positive impact in the right direction..."

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8. Posted by Spindoctor, 01/02/2021 12:44

"Thought-provoking as ever...
In UK we are currently "enjoying" a David Attenborough series "A Perfect Planet". I have parenthesised enjoying because anyone who watches this, and isn't scared about the future (or lack of it) of Humanity on Spaceship Earth isn't paying attention. The photography is stunning. The variety and ingenuity of Life on Earth which it portrays - how Life finds niches in which to survive in inhospitable environments literally awe-inspiring. The prognosis for Human life not good.
Earth exists in the "Goldilocks zone" a compact region around a star where it's neither too hot nor too cold & there is liquid water. Life (as we know it, Jim) exists only because of huge number of other "random" supporting accidental characteristics of our planet. Attenborough & respectable scientists emphasise that this balance of extremely complex interacting factors & systems supporting Life is also fragile.
Humanity has chucked a number of pretty large & damaging spanners into the "machinery" which maintains this delicate balance & ultimately the possibility of human life.
There's a theory that we haven't heard from or seen ET, is because before they develop serious Universe-spanning travel, "intelligent" Civilisations annihilate themselves. Humanity might manage this destruction through many means (wars, famines, over-population, epidemics, technological over-reach etc.).
The terrifying probability is that some or all of these disasters are likely to be triggered by human destruction of our Planet.

Whilst I share the optimistic view that Science & Technology offer ways to slow our headlong plunge into oblivion, the fundamental problem is over-consumption of a finite resource (Planet Earth) by people like us in wealthy countries. Unless huge investments are made, starting now, to move all of us in the rich countries onto low\zero carbon systems we will never have a chance to devise or implement the Prime Directive.

The relevance of all this to Formula 1 is that F1 has zero relevance."

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9. Posted by Nogbad, 31/01/2021 22:36

"If there is money in it, they will make it happen.

I've been wondering for a while how they will do it, and a few options occur to me, with different pros and cons.
One way would be to make it carbon neutral while still running with hydrocarbons. It would work, but soon become out of step with automakers.
Another way would be just to make the Formula like Formula E, only more so. Not ideal.
Hydrogen is relatively inefficient compared to direct electrification, but for such a small usage it could be made to work, but probably not through a fuel cell - hydrogen combustion is feasible, but with challenges, but that is what Formula 1 is all about. The other combustion byproducts are an issue, but perhaps not insurmountable.
I wonder too if there is the possibility of using a heat pump to help with engine cooling and generate electricity for the hybrid system - surely someone has already looked at this."

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10. Posted by ancient70!, 31/01/2021 10:23

"Once upon a time we had things called Grand Prix races, where teams or individuals competed for a grand prize. This was usually done with the most powerful hairy machines the current rules allowed. Currently we have relatively big and clumsy overweight technology demonstrators, which admittedly can go around a track at a fair rate of knots. Racing cars? Not so much! So what now for F1? Which means what exactly?

In this whole save the planet scenario where to now for F1, electrical, hybrid hydrogen maybe nuclear? Something has changed which I find worrying, previously the the FIA’s main actions were, sorry you cant use that, cars will become too fast, sorry you cant do that, it will become too expensive and oh what a clever idea, lets ban it before it gets out of hand. Then in this new era, it is my impression, it is the first time they have specified the technologies to be used plus the exact engine specification, layout, capacity, turbo, the lot! Now we have ICE, cool! So is the F1 becoming a technology proving ground for the auto manufacturers?

What will people be willing to watch and pay for in the future? In the broader scheme of things, F1 is insignificant and it will not develop technology that will save the world. There is this big elephant in the room that tends get ignored, 7 billion people and counting! Download a marine tracking app, zoom out to world view,,,and once you have collected your yaw off the floor, please realise you are seeing way less than what is really out there. And so it goes with trucks, trains and planes! Not to mention our own personal chariots!

So lets see where we end up, but solar panels are great! Saves me money, makes me bit greener? But seeing that I live in South Africa, at least I have a fairly reliable supply of electricity, as the local utility company regularly goes into self destruct mode!"

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11. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 31/01/2021 8:40

"What is the problem "the world" is trying to solve?

It isn't a lack of oil at a good price, well it wasn't until Biden knocked off 1M jobs last week, no, the perceived problem (yes, I'm a skeptic) is one that the world is getting too hot and carbon dioxide is to blame, meaning wealthy countries have to pay more tax to poor countries.

This is despite the world being greener than expected (plants love that CO2) and no real uptick in average temperatures for over 18 years now (it's hard to measure global temperature in the first place).

Then there is us as humans. The natural CO2 production is between 90 and 110 giga tons per annum. Humans do about 10 giga tons. We are within the margin of error.

What that has to do with our entertainment (and tax) is a long stretch. Bernie is right.

There hasn't been a decent transfer of tech from F1 to road cars for years.

Aside from packing in the cells, there hasn't been any real improvement in battery tech for over 10 years.

I hope that Max is right about something happening in batteries this year as I'm sick of replacing a perfectly good phone every three years.

Lets just go back to racing and call it sport / entertainment.

Otherwise, stop all international sports teams flying to play each other. They will have to either sail or row to each other's countries."

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12. Posted by habentsen, 31/01/2021 0:15

"A part of me want F1 to throw their hands up and admit to being entertainment only with three simple engine rules:

1. A fixed ratio of 2 cylinders per 1 Weber carburetor.
2. No overpressure or energy recovery devices (compressor/turbos/energy harvesting/kers/MGU-whatever).
3. The only allowed fuel is the same fuel available at the pumps of more than 75% of gas stations in the race host country with no additives.


"

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13. Posted by Apexing, 29/01/2021 18:34

"@Max Noble - Another great article! It reminded me of that old bumpersticker: "Save the whales! Collect the whole set!"

I do think they should go full electric in F1. That said, they'll need really long extension cords to power them, so maybe they should only race on ovals. "

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14. Posted by Max Noble, 28/01/2021 23:19

"@The Canadian - chariot racing (Ben Hur...) has no engines and was alarmingly exciting... :-)

@ZJAY - there are so few moving parts to solar that a well designed, well built, correctly installed set up will last 20 years with only a slight drop in generating capability. Our solar panels are seven years old this year, and still generate just fine (we went Westinghouse at the time...). They paid for themselves in just under three years. Zero maintenance, and all paid off... the rest is bonus! (Helps to live in Australia...).

@Superbird70 & @Lapps - Agree the energy density of the battery is the key limiting factor. From industry news we are to believe that Toyota and Panasonic think they have a “next generation” answer for the end of this year... let’s see... I’m also waiting for a little more product maturity before going electric. I think around 2030 we will start seeing genuine next generation solutions..."

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15. Posted by Superbird70, 28/01/2021 23:09

"@Lapps-A Canadian company launched the first commercial electric plane in 2019. Albeit a retrofitted de Havilland Beaver floatplane. But a start none the less."

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